×

Henry Winkler, TV’s Eternal Teenager Fonzie, Turns 70

Henry Winkler enjoyed a very extended adolescence as Fonzie, who rode around on his motorcycle and always had the best chicks, on seminal ’70s sitcom “Happy Days.”

Fonzie came to symbolize everything that was cool about the ’50s to TV viewers in the ’70s, and his leather jacket was enshrined at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. — ironic since the censors at ABC initially refused to allow Fonzie to wear a leather jacket, asserting that such garb would make him appear to be a hoodlum. In the end, Fonzie got his leather jacket, and TV Guide named him the fourth greatest television character of all time.

Winkler told Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford on the “Today” show in 2014 that he goes to D.C. to visit the jacket; indeed, he visited in 2008, but the jacket has not been on display for the past several years — drawing a few online complaints — replaced by Farrah Fawcett’s swimsuit.

But curators have assured Variety that while the jacket may not be currently on view, it is very much part of the museum’s permanent collection: “As it is made from leather, organic materials, we are not able to have it on view all the time to protect it from damage due to light.”

But there are plans to put it back on display as part of a huge exhibition opening in 2018.

In a recent blog post, Eric Jentsch, deputy chair and curator, Division of Culture and the Arts, recalled: “When I was a kid I saw Fonzie’s jacket on display here at the museum. Not only was I excited that something I was so interested was on display, but also that I was shocked at how different from how it was than the image in my mind. For example, it was brown, (while I thought they were always black), and it was much smaller than I would have thought (no offense, Mr. Winkler). It sounds goofy but it really made me examine the things I thought were ‘cool’ more critically. Now that’s basically my job!”

Henry Winkler in 2008 with his “Happy Days” leather jacket and Smithsonian entertainment curator Dwight Blocker Bowers Courtesy of the Smithsonian

“Happy Days” ran for for 255 episodes over 10 years, and Winkler was 28 — already way past his teenage years — when the series debuted in January 1974.

While ABC may have forced Fonzie into extending his adolescence (or perhaps just his adolescent behavior) a bit excessively, Winkler has aged gracefully into other TV roles, as on USA Network’s “Royal Pains,” where he played the somewhat shady dad to concierge doctor Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) and his brother (Paulo Costanzo). He’s also recently recurred on “Parks and Recreation” as Dr. Saperstein and on Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” as Sy Mittleman.

Winkler spends his off-screen time raising awareness about dyslexia — a learning disability with which he struggled when he was growing up. Though he barely made it through high school, he went on to attend Boston’s Emerson College, but didn’t learn that he had dyslexia until years later, when he was 31. According to a February 2015 article in the Atlantic, Winkler simply thought he was stupid until he was diagnosed with dyslexia — believed to affect as many as one in five students. The confident and commanding Fonzie, the Atlantic declared, “was a facade for a man who’d spent his entire life assuming his intelligence just wasn’t, as he put it, ‘up to snuff.'”

The BBC’s “Hank Zipzer,” on which he’s a series regular, playing Mr. Rock, is actually based on a book series penned by Winkler and co-author Lin Oliver about a boy with dyslexia. (Winkler and Oliver have written more than two dozen books together.)

So happy 70th birthday, Mr. Winkler — our beloved Fonzie, who went on to prove he was so much more than just Fonzie.

More TV

  • Frank Doelger70th Primetime Emmy Awards -

    Frank Doelger and Mark Huffam to Produce 'The Swarm' For European Pubcasters' Pact The Alliance

    The Alliance, the pact formed by Europe’s top state broadcasters to counter the growing power of Netflix and other streaming giants, has joined forces on a high-end adaptation of bestselling environmental sci-fi thriller “The Swarm.” As previously announced, multi Emmy award-winning producer Frank Doelger (“Game of Thrones”) is executive producing the English language series via [...]

  • Macaulay Culkin

    'American Horror Story': Macaulay Culkin Among Those Joining for Season 10

    Macaulay Culkin is one of the stars set to join the “American Horror Story” franchise for its upcoming tenth season. Series creator Ryan Murphy announced the new and returning cast members via a suitably gloomy video posted to his Instagram, set to the tune of the song “Dead of Night” by Orville Peck. Two mainstays [...]

  • ABC Orders Comedy Pilot From Nahnatchka

    Jason Lee-Fronted Comedy Pilot From Nahnatchka Khan and Niki Schwartz-Wright Ordered at ABC

    Nahnatchka Khan could have another series coming to ABC. The “Fresh Off the Boat” creator is an executive producer on a pilot called “Valley Trash,” which has been picked up at the Disney-owned network. A single-cam comedy, “Valley Trash” hails from “Speechless” writer Niki Schwartz-Wright (who will serve as writer, EP and showrunner) and is [...]

  • Pictured: Cyma Zarghami, President of the

    Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon's Former Chief, Launches New Kids Content Studio

    Cyma Zarghami spent the better part of her career overseeing the kids-media empire known as Nickelodeon. At last, she’s ready to come out and play. Zargahmi, who left in 2018 as president of the Nickelodeon operations at the company once known as Viacom, has returned to the business of creating content for kids. She has [...]

  • Alexa Mansour as Hope, Aliyah Royale

    AMC Networks Grapples With TV's Shifting Tides in Q4

    AMC Networks delivered lackluster earnings for the fourth quarter that were dragged down by write-downs in the international unit and declining advertising revenue for its U.S. networks. The results underscore the crossroads that pure-play programmers such as AMC Networks have reached in terms of growth potential for the traditional linear channels that are its core [...]

  • Fremantle Takes 100% Stake in Naked,

    Fremantle Takes 100% Stake in Naked, Simon Andreae Upped to CEO of Fremantle U.K.

    Fremantle has taken a 100% stake in Naked Television, and has named Naked founder Simon Andreae CEO of Fremantle U.K. A founding partner of Optomen Television and a former Fox executive, Andreae will take over from outgoing CEO Liam Humphreys. As head of U.K.’s operations, Andreae will report to group CEO Jennifer Mullin, and take [...]

  • I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS

    'I Am Not Okay With This' on Netflix: TV Review

    To be a teenage girl is to be a tight coil of confused rage, a fact that “I Am Not Okay With This” both knows and depends upon. The new Netflix comedy tells the story of Sydney (Sophia Lillis), a seething Pennsylvania teen who first seems to be, as she tells us in a deadpan [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content